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#ToughQuestions: How to Talk About Your Previous Salary at a Job Interview

For the everyday employee, salaries are mostly treated with overwhelming secrecy. While we’re not James Bond, we treat it like a top-secret mission, often choosing only the closest of friends or co-workers to share such confidential information.

But when you’re applying for a new job, the question is inevitably asked: “How much was your salary in your previous job?” This question often feels like a trap. What if your salary was under market value in your industry? Give away the exact number you were making and the company might use the opportunity to low-ball your job offer.  And if you don’t answer, human resources might think you're sketchy. The question is often asked because it gives companies a distinct advantage when it comes to salary negotiations.

You can’t exactly dodge the question and tell the hiring specialist, “I don’t want to tell you, sorry”. So how can you talk about your previous salary at a job interview?

We have a few alternatives for you below:

Cite the NDA

Many companies impose a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) or confidentiality clause on an employee’s job contract. This means that you cannot discuss the content of your employment contract with anyone else. This usually includes your salary and benefits.

If your previous employer used a confidentiality clause in your previous job, you can mention to your interviewer that your previous employer considers this information as confidential and that you are bound by the contract to not divulge your previous pay. But let’s make it clear: use this reason only if your contract does have an NDA. You wouldn’t want to be caught lying if your interviewer calls up your former employer.

And if they still insist on an answer to the question? Try the next step.

Give a target salary range

One way to dodge that dreaded question is to give your target salary range. You’re not obligated to give them an exact number. Your personal finances are a private matter so you have every right to keep it private.

Let’s say you have been in marketing for 4 years and you make Php 28,500 a month, which is relatively low for positions in your company’s industry and number of years served. You’re aiming for at least Php 32,000 for the new job you’re applying for. You can say, “I’m aiming for positions in the Php 32,000 to Php 37,000 range.”

Your potential employer should be able to assess your value as an employee independent of other factors that are out of your control (i.e. low pay at your previous job) so giving them a target range gives both parties a little wiggle room for salary negotiations.

Of course, always make sure to do your research before you give a target salary range. In a perfect world, we could just give any salary range we want. But if you’re going to use a target salary range as a baseline for your employer, make sure the target range that you mention is credible. Look into the salary ranges of your peers in the same city, industry, position level, and years of work experience.

Give your previous salary range

Of course, there is a huge possibility that your interviewer will give you a hard time about not giving your previous salary.

In the event that they insist that you give them your previous salary instead of the salary range that you want, you can give them a range for your previous salary.

You can say, “My previous salary was in the Php 28,000 to Php 32,000 range, which I was told was rather low for the industry and my work experience. I’m currently aiming for positions in the Php 32,000 to Php 37,000 range.”

You will be able to satisfy their answer regarding your previous salary but still keep the exact number to yourself.

At the end of the day, the decision to divulge your previous salary is all your own. It can be a risk to keep your exact salary to yourself because if the particular interviewer you get is nitpicky, he or she might take it against you. Whatever choice you make, just make sure that you don’t lie about your salary history. Lying about your employment history is a sure way to lose a job offer.